Sunday, October 30, 2016

World Series Game 3: Wrigley Field

1. Santa and a Drunk
The crowd was like a sandy beach dusted with snow, varying shades of white and tan, all swaddled in snapping crisp Cubbie blue. Even after it all—the 1-0 loss to Cleveland in Game 3 of the 2016 World Series, the first World Series game at Wrigley Field in 71 years—they looked clean and pressed and rather bright, standing upright, standing tall, except for the drunks, of course, and there were a few of those. Behind me a group of young men held on to one, their friend, a slight young man floppy as an old sock.

The crowd moved in spurts—we were thousands of people leaving the ball park, heading to the el station a half block east. Inside the park we had been herded and channeled by the usual walkways and ramps; outside we were channeled by the usual buildings and structures with the addition of unbreakable lines of police on foot and horse and temporary metal barricades that kept some of us confined to the narrow sidewalk while others walked the spacious street. At Addison and Sheffield I broke free, worked my way over to the back of the crowd at the far side of the el station, which brought me considerably closer to the doors, which, I soon learned, were being opened and closed according to some secret plan concocted by the CTA. When the doors opened, the crowd surged forward. When the doors closed, we stopped.

Standing in front of me was a man who stood out in the crowd. His face was dark as a strong cup of joe and he wore a red jacket, slightly mussed, slightly rumpled. He stooped a bit and held on to a simple walker that sported wheels and a seat. After a surge forward the doors closed, mob movement stopped, he turned, sat down, jingled coins in a cup.

“You sound like Santa Claus,” I said.

He laughed. He said, “Sometimes I act like Santa Claus, too. I give away all my stuff. Yes, sometimes I give away all my stuff, just like Santa Claus. Maybe I shouldn’t do that, but I do.”

The doors opened and the mob moved with a strange, detached momentum. Santa had to stand, turn around, and by the time he did this some had flowed past like water around stone, including the three or four young men with the sleepy drunk. Then Santa got moving, made it into the station.

The doors closed.

I was now at the front of the mob, and in front of me was three feet of open space, then the doors, the last set of three sets of double doors that make up the entrance to the station. The entire face is glass, so I had a great view of the station’s interior. It is one big room with ticket turnstiles to the right, starting about halfway back. I watched as the mob in the station moved through those turnstiles, the near part of the room clearing out, and when that kid started barfing into the garbage can I had as good a view as any. Yes, that young, sleepy-eyed drunk had reappeared, taken a dramatic stance by a large CTA garbage can with a big Cubs emblem on it, and started vomiting. It was not unlike watching a movie. The crowd commented. “Oh no!” Laughter. “The poor guy!” Chuckles. “Oh good, his friend is helping him.” Smiles. “Oh no! There he goes again!” Each time he retched, a collective “Oooooooo.”

Then the young man straightened up, paused, turned, began lurching toward the station doors. Toward us. “Oh no!” “Hey buddy! No way!” “Uh uh, go back!” Everyone, and I mean everyone, made a motion with their hands or said something or did both, did anything to keep this vomiter from leaping off the screen into our world. I’ve never seen a 3-D movie, but this is probably what it’s like.

The drunk abruptly stopped, looked up, maybe saw us all or heard us, and he kind of shrugged, made a face like who needs ya?, turned, and then his buddy, who had momentarily left him, came back on scene to steer his friend through a turnstile.

Phew. We all laughed. I was laughing, and I looked around and everyone in Cubbie blue was either smiling or laughing and it was absolutely the funniest moment of the night.

2. Standing Room Only: The Aussie
With an SRO ticket, you can walk around the grandstand or upper deck of Wrigley Field all through the game, or you can stand on the far side of the walkway behind the grandstand seats, which go from the the left field corner to the right field corner. There are many good spots, it all just kind of depends on the crowd and the weather and what you’re looking for.

By game time, I had been walking around outside and inside the park for a couple of hours, so I decided to pick a spot to stand, maybe sit, and found one behind home plate. Way behind home plate.

Next to me was Paul, a young man from Australia. He introduced himself and told me he’d been a Cub fan for several years, somehow hearing about them way over yonder and adopting them as his team. The park was very noisy, so hard to hold a conversation, but I think I understood correctly when Paul said that once the Cubs made it to the World Series his parents told him that if he got a ticket for a game they would cover the airfare. So here he was. With a friend from Australia and two friends from Chicago. This was not his first trip over to Wrigley Field this year. And he’s also been to two World Cup finals. Finally I said “Oh, so you’re a sports nut,” and he said “Oh yeah-a” in that nice, soft and curvy Australian lilt.

3. A Word from Ronnie
Before the game Ronnie “Woo Woo” Wickers was outside the park standing in a long line of hopefuls waiting to buy a ticket for the game.

4. Back to Standing Room Only: Laura and a Loner
Soon the players were being announced so everyone with a grandstand seat stood up and I realized the problem: I could not see through them. Some people were sitting just above me on a ramp leading to the upper deck, so I tried that out, and, but for the howling wind at my back, it worked out fine. One could sit or stand and have a fairly decent view. Laura sat down next to me. She had a sign for her brother. He died a few years ago. She was at the game for him, she said, just as she had promised. She wore a Cub flag like a cape, and as the wind blew and the cold concrete seeped into my legs, I shivered. Laura noticed and offered me her cape. No, no, I’m fine.

Laura and I developed a camaraderie. I was trying to maintain a scorecard and told her about my dad and scorecards. We high-fived after every key play. And on her phone is the only photo of me at the World Series.

But it was not a cold night, actually rather a warm one, and I knew that out of the wind I’d be more comfortable, so after five innings I left Laura and the spot on the ramp. I walked around, hit a bathroom, found my way to the far left corner of the upper deck. At the final switchback on the way up the ramp sat one young man, on the edge of the ramp, his back against a post, his legs stretched out in front of him, a calm bubble of solitude. I asked if he had a good view of the game and he said yes, it was a pretty good view.

5. The Scorecard Thing
If you go to a World Series game at Wrigley Field, don’t expect to buy your traditional scorecard and pencil. They are not available. You may be tempted to fork over $15 for the only scorecard that is available, the one within the official World Series program, but in my opinion that scorecard is worthless, and, besides, the damn thing weighs near to two pounds. I made do for a while with a sheet of paper and some pens I had, but overall, a score-keeping disaster.

6. Bill Murray
The upper deck is split by a walkway with rows of seats above and below, and at the left field end the upper rows of seats had been turned into a quasi press box for “auxiliary media.” Here there were far less people walking about and the view was fine. I leaned against the half wall in front of the auxiliary press and had some peanuts. The only people who bothered me were the ones with the little brooms and dustpans that kept coming by to sweep up peanut shells.

Soon it was soon time for the seventh inning stretch and the mass singing of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game, ” the tradition started by Harry Caray all those years ago. Tonight’s guest conductor, as they call whoever it is leading us in song, was Bill Murray, the celebrity face of every long-suffering Cub fan. Guest conductors kind of lean out from the broadcast booth which hangs over the upper deck, back of home plate, and most often they start with a few words of some sort. Murray was no exception. But I could not tell what he was saying. Something about Daffy Duck. What does Daffy Duck have to do with it? I had no clue, still don’t, but finally the song began. And Murray sang like Daffy Duck. I didn’t get it then, I don’t get it now. And I wonder why we have to suffer this stuff. It seems like a mockery of a mockery or something. Postseason baseball and they trot Bill Murray out and he sings and spits like Daffy Duck and seriously, do we need this embarrassment?

Cleveland had gone up 1-0 in the top of the seventh, and in the bottom of the seventh the Cubs had a bit of something going, a triple, finally!, by Jason Heyward, and I was enjoying it all when suddenly a crowd of people marched by headed toward the far corner of the stadium. Hello. Where did you all come from? Hello. I can’t see … I realized there was something officious about this group as they all moved briskly, heads up, eyes forward, no one stumbling or fumbling about with a floppy trayful of beers or nachos—it was very much as if Something Was Happening. Luckily, there were two young men nearby who caught it all on their phones, and after this shipload of people had passed these guys looked at whatever they had captured and exclaimed: Bill Murray! Bill Murray walked by! I got it! I got it! I got his picture! Look! See?

Meanwhile, the Cubs blew a chance to score.

7. Jim Deshaies
The celebrity I did see was Jim Deshaies. All summer long, April to October, he is a TV commentator for the Cubs, and I think he’s a smart enough guy and quite funny. When I was cruising through the stands before the game I passed Deshaies and stopped short, recognizing him kind of like an afterthought. His voice is more familiar to me than his face. I told him how I listen to him and his partner, Len Kasper, every day, all summer, and thanked him for the fun of it. There’s a lot of room in baseball for announcers to veer off into obtuse matter like who drove the Partridge Family’s bus, if they have that bent, anyway, and I, of course, enjoy these diversions and digressions. So I told Deshaies about that and I think I even shook his hand.

8. Bring Out Your Dead (But please, can we put away the dead bats?)
The official attendance at the game was 41,703, but unofficially, if you stopped to count all the dead people, the attendance was in the millions. It was a night so filled with novelty—the first World Series Game at Wrigley Field in 71 years! no scorecards! no pencils! Bill Murray!—but so heavily laden with the past and this thick miasma of spirits; all these poor lost souls who never while living got to experience this World Series moment; all these dearly departed being evoked by their descendants, the media, interested bystanders—how do we maneuver through such a spiritual smog? Of course some believe these souls are up in heaven watching. Perhaps it is just a few of us believing our dads are actually there with us at the ball park.

While driving home the next day, somewhere in Wisconsin, I was tuned to a radio program on a Chicago station. Listeners were asked to call in with stories of their loved ones, those now gone, those who this World Series is bringing back, those who this World Series is being played for, the moms, dads, grandpas and grandmas and sisters and brothers and aunts and uncles … on and on. One caller told of her mother’s life-long passion for the Cubs and of her very last words, caught on tape. Go Cubs Go, she said. Then she died.

9. Going Home Again
Once inside the el station at Addison, I got through the turnstile and onto a train fairly quickly. Even got a seat. At Howard, we all piled off and most of us stayed on the platform to wait for the next train, either the Purple Line or the Yellow Line. Here things bogged down a bit, and a new mob formed. This one was heavy with families. You could see the generations lined up. Kids, teen-agers, middle-agers, the aged. Several people I would guess were in their 80s, in their 90s, and one or two hung on to the sleeve of a daughter or son, maybe a grandchild. Some hung on to each other. Others stood firmly on their own. A lucky few got to sit.

My van was at the last stop on the Purple Line, my old hometown. There is a parking lot there: $4 for 24 hours. About 1 a.m. I laid down in my van, slept a few hours. Then I drove over to Gillson Park, along Lake Michigan. I brushed my teeth and stretched my legs. A cinnamon roll later, I was on my way up to the next suburb to pick up Josie.

What a night, I thought. What a night. No, it wasn’t the greatest game ever. The Cubs made it interesting in the bottom of the ninth, but left it at a loss, a crazy 1-0 loss with the wind blowing out. But I was able to be there, and that was the thing. Some part of me had felt I had to be there, so I was, and forever now I will have that vivid memory of some guy in a red jacket jingling his change and of some kid barfing into a garbage can. A guy from Australia and a young woman in her cape. The conundrum of Daffy Duck. The tallness of Jim Deshaies. The miasma of ghosts. That kid celebrating his birthday. That one guy sitting on the upper deck ramp. The usher who sang and shuffled her feet to “Hit the Road Jack.” Wayne Messmer once again singing the national anthem. Left Foot Creek and the I Don’t Know Saloon. The proprietor at the coffee shop near 4th and Linden who wanted to buy my vintage Cubs jacket off my back, and the man in Cubbie blue coming in looking frantic did I leave a wad of money here? because he left a wad of money somewhere. There is still a jukebox at the Nisei Lounge. And Ronnie Woo Woo, indeed, he lives.

10. Josie Has His Say
As depicted by a photo snapped by his dogsitter.

11. Elliott Adds a Word
No. Wait a minute. Elliott has nothing to say.

12. So, can we let it go now? Please?
No way. Not yet. We still have to sing.

Go Cubs Go.

World Series Game One: Cleveland 6, Cubs 0
World Series Game Two: Cubs 5, Cleveland 1
World Series Game Three: Cleveland 1, Cubs 0
World Series Game Four: Cleveland 7, Cubs 2
World Series Game Five: Tonight, Wrigley Field